by Laura Kaye
Series: Hard Ink, Book Two
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Categories: Romantic Suspense, Military
Published: February 25th, 2014
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Format: eBook, Mass Market Paperback, Audiobook
Length: Novel, 384 pages
Source: ARC via publisher
Five dishonored soldiers.
Former Special Forces.
One last mission.
These are the men of Hard Ink.
Ever since hard-bodied, drop-dead-charming Shane McCallan strolled into the dance club where Crystal Dean works, he’s shown a knack for getting beneath her defenses. For her little sister’s sake, Crystal can’t get too close. Until her job and Shane’s mission intersect, and he reveals talents that go deeper than she could have guessed.
Shane would never turn his back on a friend in need, especially a former Special Forces teammate running a dangerous, off-the-books operation. Nor can he walk away from Crystal. The gorgeous waitress is hiding secrets she doesn’t want him to uncover. Too bad. He’s exactly the man she needs to protect her sister, her life, and her heart. All he has to do is convince her that when something feels this good, you hold on as hard as you can–and never let go.
| Goodreads |
Hard As You Can picks up immediately after the events of Hard As It Gets. The courageous waitress who helped Shane and his team rescue Becca’s brother, Charlie, from the Churchmen is front and center of this action-packed story, and things are about to get more intense for her and for the men of Hard Ink.
Crystal was a wonderful heroine with depth and many layers. Through no fault of her own, she got dragged into the sordid world of human trafficking, drug dealers and gangbangers. Her dreams of a normal life were snuffed out the moment her father had gone to jail, and she was forced to pay of her father’s debts and care for her ill sister. She paid a very high price for her family. Crystal was a survivor and a fighter. Her motives for enduring the abuse at the hands of her keeper were utterly selfless. Though she suffered horribly, she never lost hope, her compassion or the perseverance to find a way out. Everything she did was a calculated move to survive. If you can imagine, her physical scars bothered her more than the way she was perceived based on her occupation or the company she kept.
Sixteen years ago, Shane’s little sister, Molly, went missing, presumed dead, and he has carried the guilt of feeling responsible for her disappearance since that time. Molly was just part of the reason why Shane felt the need to help Crystal and her sister, Jenna. In his mind, saving them would have been a small step in redeeming himself. Shane embodied everything you could ask for in a hero. He was patient, compassionate, protective, confident, he had a sense of humor and he had demons to overcome. I’m also pleased that his interest in Crystal wasn’t that he had to have her in order to “get her out of his system” (like so many heroes lately seem to think is a good plan).
This story knocked the first one out of first place. There was a lot more action and suspense and the romance was a delicious slow burn. Excellent flow that was neither rushed nor boring. The main mystery of decoding Colonel Merrit’s secret messages was still being unraveled one puzzle piece at a time. The dialogue sounded very natural so that they suited the each individual character.
I loved Crystal and Shane as a couple. Crystal was a risk taker especially when it came to helping Shane, but I never felt her actions were that of a heroine too stupid to live. There was one heartbreaking moment where the reader got a glimpse of what she had to bear at the hands of Bruno. When she finally gathered the courage to tell Shane how she had ended up in that life, it was just …. I’m glad the author let Crystal summarize the horror rather than tell it through a flashback. That would have been just to painful to process. When they finally took things to the next level, it was like a huge exhale and well worth the wait.
The Bottom Line
Hard As You Can was a near 400 page powder keg of action, suspense, angst and romance. Shane and Crystal’s intense chemistry was a beautiful slow burn against the backdrop of the seedy underworld she had grown accustomed to. Great character development on both parts but most notably from the heroine made them easy to connect with. Rooting for them came easily and instantaneously. There’s a good reason why Laura Kaye is an auto-buy author for me, and the proof is in her writing. As soon as I finished reading this advanced copy, I read it again. There are no cliffhanger endings, but the men of Hard Ink continue to unravel the mystery that ended their careers one book at a time. They deserve to find their equals and the love of their lives along the way.
Crossing his arms, Shane waited.
“God, I can’t get rid of you.” Exasperation had her throwing up her arms.
“I specialize in pain in the ass, darlin’.” He smiled, forcing himself to gear down the intensity.
“Well, congratulations, because you clearly graduated with honors.” (Page 59)
“I already told you I’d share what I’d learned. You don’t have to play me.”
His eyes narrowed, and he frowned. “You listen hard and you listen good, sweetness,” he said, the words firm but the tone urgent, almost desperate, and laced with his southern accent. “I’m not perfect, and God knows I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. But I would never play with a woman’s emotions to get information out of her. That kind of manipulation doesn’t hold with me. Ever.” (Page 136)
Disclaimer: I received an ARC from the publisher for the purpose of an honest review. The views and opinions expressed in this review are my own, and in no way represent the views or opinions of the publisher/distributor.
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